A/N: Well, this is it. The final chapter. There's a SLIM possibility of an epilogue, but it's not really likely...I rather like the way things ended.
Incidentally, I'm rewriting some earlier chapters; no major changes, just a few small things added and some sentence errors corrected. Chapters 1 and 2 are already revised and reposted.
If you're still reading this story, please review! I know it's taken me forever to complete, and I do apologize. However, I'm rather pleased with the end result, and I would love to know what other people think of it.
"I knew this was a mistake," Frederick said, disappointment rather than anger in his voice as he pulled his arm away from Rose. She was frowning in concern, somewhat confused as to why her perfect plan had backfired.
"Maybe she just forgot something," Rose tried to offer helpfully, but Frederick shook his head and started up the stairs two at a time.
"I've got to go after her," he called over his shoulder before disappearing through the double doors. Left behind, Rose sighed and turned in the direction where her sister was sitting. She caught Lillian's eye, and the queen raised an eyebrow questioningly. Rose just shook her head; this had become much more tangled than she had anticipated.
From the other side of the courtyard, Charming had noticed his mother's entrance, as well as her immediate disappearance. He stood from his seat, frowning as he tried to see what had caused her to leave, but he could see nothing but a mass of people laughing and talking.
"What's the matter, hon?" Doris asked, trying to see what he was looking at.
"Mother. She just...disappeared," he murmured absently.
"Well, she's the Fairy Godmother. Isn't she kind of known for that?" his date questioned.
"Not like this. I've got to go after her," he said, pushing his chair out of the way. Doris stood up with him, throwing her napkin down on the table.
"I'm going with you. You sure as hell aren't leaving me here sitting by myself," she announced, one hand on her hip as if daring him to tell her no. Charming hesitated; this was not exactly how he had planned to reveal his relationship with Doris, but he didn't have much time to argue with the tough barmaid if he was going to catch up to his mother in time.
"Fine," he said with a sigh, then struck a chivalrous pose out of habit and announced grandly, "Come, we haven't a moment to lose!"
Everywhere she turned, the Fairy Godmother was confronted with late-coming party-goers, guards, servants...all people she simply could not let herself cry in front of. She couldn't very well just disappear, either; doing such a trick unplanned in front of enough stragglers would cause rumors to fly before she could get back. Everyone would think she had lost her nerve and decided against appearing at the ball, after all. Struggling against the falling tears, she searched desperately for a place abandoned enough to either hide or disappear.
Although she was flying as fast as she could under the circumstances, she had to remain a little bit discreet in order to keep from attracting the wrong kind of attention. Frederick, on the other hand, didn't give a damn whether anyone saw him running through the halls. Over the years, he had learned not to care so much about what others thought of him, especially not when he stood to lose something important to him. After a couple minutes of skidding to dead ends in halls with no trace of her, he finally caught a shimmer of wings rounding the corner ahead of him.
"Belle, wait!" he called, increasing his speed. Rounding the same corner she had left behind, he almost collided with her as she tried to exit the same way she came in, having run into a gaggle of guards who had stood up very straight with a loud clatter of armor when their poker game was unexpectedly intruded upon.
"Get the hell out of my way," she snarled, forgetting for a moment that she was easily within hearing distance of other people. The guards quickly disappeared through a side door, not wishing to be around to witness whatever was about to take place. Frederick spread his arms out across the hall entrance, moving from side to side as the Fairy Godmother tried to dodge around him.
"Please, Belle, at least hear me out," he pleaded, only to be interrupted before he could finish his argument.
"What were you doing with her?" the angry woman fluttering in front of him blurted out. "Two weeks ago you were at my door begging for forgiveness, and now--"
"Stop it, Belle. I won't have you turning this into something it's not," Frederick interjected quickly. "To tell you the truth, she was merely a ploy to try and make you jealous," he admitted, somewhat shamefully. The entire idea sounded incredibly ridiculous now that he had to say it outloud. "I just...I didn't know how else to get you to talk to me. I suppose I was hoping if you were jealous of her...well, at least that meant you still had some feeling for me."
The two stood regarding one another for a moment, neither quite sure of what to say next. Before they had too much time to think it over, the sound of running feet once again filled the hall. Moments later, Charming and Doris came into view, holding hands as they ran. As soon as Charming caught sight of his mother, he quickly dropped Doris' hand; she, however, refused to be ignored, and she quickly took hold of his hand again with a tight grip.
"Charming?" the Fairy Godmother questioned, her conflict with Frederick momentarily pushed to the side. "What on Earth are you doing?"
"Well, I saw you run out of the ball, Mum, and I--" he cringed as Doris not-so-discreetly stepped on his foot with her size ten heels, "...that is to say, we...decided to come find out what was wrong."
"We?" his mother asked, seeming to notice Doris' presence for the first time. "What's she doing here?"
"I'm his date," Doris replied brusquely, not giving Charming the chance to stammer out an excuse.
"What on Earth are you talking about?" the Fairy Godmother replied, something between disbelief and disgust written on her face. "Charming, don't you know who she is? For Grimm's sake, she's only a barmaid!"
"Is it really such a crime for a prince to fall in love with a barmaid, Belinda?" Frederick interjected, and the Fairy Godmother stiffened slightly at his reminder of her own past. There was an uncomfortable silence between all parties. Frederick reached to lay a hand on her shoulder, but she drew back as soon as his fingertips brushed the fabric of her dress. Sighing, Frederick shook his head in defeat. "If this is what you want, then so be it. I can't fight you on this any longer. I know we aren't who we once were, Belle, but I had hoped you would give me a chance to get to know you again. I must say, I'm sorry you don't feel the same way." With that, he began to turn and walk away.
"Frederick!" she blurted out before she could stop herself. It was the first time she had actually spoken his name since he had first appeared on her doorstep two weeks earlier. He turned, waiting for her to continue, but she suddenly found herself at a loss for words.
"Ms. Godmother?" a new voice interjected. Kyle stood behind Charming and Doris, looking somewhat uncomfortable at having interrupted an obviously private conversation. "Everyone's waiting for you to go on."
Sighing heavily, she shook her head and rubbed her temples wearily. "I'll be out in a minute, Kyle." The young man nodded and walked away; the tense silence resumed for a moment before the Fairy Godmother spoke again. "I have to go," she announced in tired voice. She hesitated, and for a moment, it looked as though she were going to say something more to Frederick. Instead, she just shook her head again and flew off down the corridor.
"Are you coming back to the ball?" Charming asked Frederick, who shook his head after a moment of thought.
"I don't really think it would be wise. I've caused enough trouble here," he replied. "Your mother probably never wants to see me again."
"Well...I want to see you," his son replied, somewhat hesitantly. "I still don't know the story of what happened, and for all I know, I should hate you...but I've spent my entire life without a father. If Mother won't make the effort to get to know you again...then I will."
Holding his hand out, Charming waited with his chin held high to see if his father would accept the offer. After a torn moment of consideration, Frederick nodded and clasped Charming's hand in a firm grip.
"I think we'd better get back to the ball," Doris spoke up after a moment of emotional silence. She was more uncomfortable with mushiness than the two men seemed to be. "I know you don't want to miss hearing your mom sing."
The Fairy Godmother didn't enter at the top of the stairs again; she instead chose a hallway that led to an entrance close to the stage. For once in her life, she was trying to avoid the attention of a grand entrance; she didn't think she could handle the applause at the moment. By the time she made it around the alternate way to the stage, she saw that Frederick, Charming, and Doris had all entered through the main doors. She knew she couldn't postpone any longer. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she nodded to cue the music to begin. A soft shimmer of chimes played through the air, just loud enough to cause the nearest party goers to look up from their punch and halt their conversations. The silence rapidly spread through the entire courtyard until every eye was turned expectedly towards the stage.
For a panicked moment, she felt entirely abandoned onstage. She knew what she was about to do wasn't going to be easy...but it was too late to turn back now. There were no poses this time, no fancy outfits. She simply stood in the center of the stage, Frederick still in her line of view, although she tried not to look directly at him. Taking another deep breath as the piano joined in the music, she began to sing in a voice more genuine than any of the inhabitants of Far Far Away had ever heard her use before.
"Has anyone ever read you a fairytale
And taken you to places magical?
Where homes are made of gingerbread,
And skies are always blue
Where pumpkins turn to coaches,
And wishes all come true...
Has anyone ever sung you a lullaby?
You can fly above the rainclouds,
Close your eyes.
Let the melody carry you,
Leave all your fears behind
And float across the rainbow sky
To 'once upon a time'..."
Her backup singers joined in softly behind her, singing the 'once upon a time' lines as she sang the lyrics of the chorus. Frederick was still standing at the top of the stairs, and this time, she turned her eyes to look at him. Her song wasn't for the crowd or the royal family or all her admiring fans. It was only for him.
"Once upon a time,
I believed in miracles,
Once upon a time,
I believed love would conquer all,
Once upon a time,
I believed that anything was possible
And I believed again the moment when
I saw you here tonight
Now 'once upon a time'
Has never felt more right..."
The chorus repeated itself as everyone turned to see just what the singer was gazing at. As they turned, Frederick began to walk down the stairs, and the crowd parted for him without resistance. Before the second chorus ended, he was walking up the steps of the stage, and the music swelled to a crescendo as tears filled the Fairy Godmother's eyes and she continued to sing, holding one hand out towards him. He took her hand in his, emotion pricking at his own eyes as he listened to her sing for him the way she had done more than twenty years ago.
"I believed that anything was possible,
And I believed again the moment when
I saw you here tonight.
Now 'once upon a time'
Has never felt more right..."
As the last notes of the song began to fade from her lips, Frederick stepped closer to her, still holding her hand. "I thought you'd stopped caring," he murmured, forgetting the presence of the crowd as they all waited in suspense and confusion; they had no idea what was happening.
"I thought I had, too," she whispered with a smile, tears choking her voice. "I tried to stop...but I never really did. I just never realized it until tonight."
"All right, what in blazes is goin' on?" Shrek called out, annoyed, but stopped short when Fiona elbowed him sharply in the side. Suddenly realizing she had left the volume on for her wand, the Fairy Godmother quickly flicked it off, clearing her throat in embarrassment.
"I love you, Belle. I always have," Frederick whispered, not seeming to care that everyone had heard their earlier exchange. She stared at him for a long moment before nodding.
"I love you, too."
From across the courtyard, Doris broke the silence of the stunned crowd. "So, you gonna kiss her, or what?" she called, creating a slight murmur of laughter. From there, the audience started applauding, softly at first, then louder until everyone in the room was clapping for the couple onstage.
Amid the sounds of roaring applause, Frederick leaned down to kiss the woman he had never stopped loving in spite of their misunderstandings. And Belinda Larae, after so many years of granting wishes for others, finally got the happily ever after she had always dreamed of.